Friday, May 15, 2009

Islam, the secular West, and radical evil

Spengler (a.k.a. David Goldman) has written an excellent article about what the torture debate tells us about ourselves and our enemies.

What Spengler calls "radical evil" -- evil acts committed for their own sake, instead of for a selfish motive (as in most rapes or thefts) -- differs qualitatively from regular evil in its effect on those fighting it. Resistance to radical evil must be correspondingly radical and unequivocal, which means that radical evil proves insidiously contagious to those fighting it. The only safeguard against being affected by this radical evil is to fully believe in the moral rightness of your fight against it.

This fact, says Spengler, spells doom for any secular society fighting radical evil. Unlike a religious society (or a society informed by religious morality), secular society has no frame of reference for understanding radical evil.
In the Second World War and the Cold War war, Americans could endure the actual or prospective horrors of war because they understood in theological terms that they were at war with radical evil. ...

Secular society, by contrast, has an inherent vulnerability to radical evil, which it has no means to understand. Secular philosophy cannot produce an ethics; much less can it account for radical evil. Marx’s economic man may pillage and Freud’s libidinous man may rape, but they do so for the sake of loot and pleasure. Evil that destroys for the sake of destruction, out of envy of the Good, lies outside the horizon of secular thought.
Spengler then goes on to lay out how America's secularization, combined with our intense aversion to admit that the "War on Terror" is actually a legitimate war against Muslim Fundamentalism, increasingly robs us of our ability to successfully fight the radical evil of radical Islam.
America was vulnerable to terror and horror during the Vietnam War, when its government failed to persuade the public that its adversary embodied an evil so great as to justify the use of terrible countermeasures. America is even more vulnerable today, when its government cannot even identify who and what the enemy might be. President Obama insists that America is not at war with Islam, but it surely is at war with an interpretation of Islam shared by tens and possibly hundreds of millions of people. By falsely representing the terrorists as an unrepresentative minority in the Muslim world, Western governments have left their people vulnerable to a profoundly demoralizing shock. ...

Nearly two hundred thousand Americans, military and civilian personnel, were exposed to Iraqi terrorist organizations that routinely employed suicide bombings in order to kill Americans and their supporters. Some of these organizations were supported by Iran, which employed waves of children as human minesweepers in its war with Iraq. These atrocities were motivated by a religion that permits a peaceful interpretation, but cannot refute the cruelest and most violent interpretation.
Read the whole thing. It's excellent.

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